How to Landscape Plants That Deer Will Not Eat

Overview

What deer will not eat depends on time of year and local flora; a starving deer will eat cedar siding off a shed before the snow melts in late winter. A few landscaping strategies, however, will discourage them from raiding your garden. Put the right plants in the right place and most deer will pass on the entire area. As un-community-spirited as it may sound, if you have the least appealing "salad bar," the deer may move on to the next neighbor.

Step 1

Design your landscape with lots of open spaces; deer look for cover before they sit down to dinner so they can escape quickly if necessary. Get rid of brush and clean out trees and shrubs with tender shoots.

Step 2

Place "sentinel" ornamental grasses at entrances to your yard and near plants that deer love. Terry Yockey of Northern Gardening insists that deer will not eat ornamentals like switchgrass, flamegrass, bluestem or fragrant prairie dropseed. Check with your local university extension or state native plant society to find options that are best for your climate and do not pose a threat of becoming invasive.

Step 3

Plant several deer-resistant plants for every plant deer find tempting. The Native Plant Society of Texas calls this "camouflage gardening." Black-eyed Susan and blood sage are native plants that deer avoid; plant big bunches of them where you notice deer browsing. Surround tulips with grape hyacinths. Surround vegetable gardens with herbs, French marigolds, snapdragons and nicotiana.

Step 4

Add plants with pungent smells and tastes that deer dislike. Start an herb garden. Deer hate really pungent herbs like mints (including bee balm and catnip), rosemary, oregano, chives, garlic and lavender. Grow yarrow and tansy in herb gardens for a little color. Naturalize bulbs like allium and daffodils, both members of the onion family. Use bulbs like snowdrops, scilla, glory of the snow and autumn crocus to produce a lawn that deer want to avoid.

Step 5

Plant shrubs and trees with tough or prickly leaves or woody parts to protect saplings and favorite targets like maples. Deer avoid barberries, hollies and lilac bushes. Spruces and Austrian pines are seldom victimized and cedar wood contains toxins.

Tips and Warnings

  • Expanding exurban areas, limitations on hunting and people feeding deer all help create population pressure. In addition to turning deer into neighborhood pests, overpopulation often leads to Bambi being bashed by a car or slowly dying of starvation. If, in spite of all your efforts, your garden is being overrun by deer, contact your Department of Natural Resources or University Extension office for suggestions.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovels, rakes and hand trowels
  • Compost

References

  • Rutgers New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station: Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance
  • Northern Gardening: Got a Deer Problem?
  • Native Plant Society of Texas: Camouflage Gardening
  • Jeff Chorba Landscaping: Designing for Deer Resistance

Who Can Help

  • University of Vermiont Extension System: Deer Resistant Perennials
  • Plant Delights Nursery: Dear Deer: We're Closed for Dinner
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Deer-Resistant Plants
Keywords: deer-resistant landscaping, plants deer dislike, deer-repellent plants

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.